United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
February 19, 2002
LINDA K. POYNER
GOOD SHEPHERD REHAB AT MUHLENBERG.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kauffman, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Linda K. Poyner brings this action against Defendant
Good Shepherd Rehab at Muhlenberg, alleging violations of the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621
et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"),
42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Now before the Court is Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (docket##14-15). For the reasons set
forth below, Defendant's Motion will be granted.
Plaintiff began working as a Licensed Practical Nurse ("LPN")
for Muhlenberg Rehabilitation Center ("Muhlenberg") on or about
September 16, 1991. (Pl.Dep. at 20.) The facility was
subsequently purchased by Lehigh Valley Hospital ("Lehigh
Valley"), which retained Plaintiff and other Muhlenberg
employees in their existing positions. (Gavornik Dep. at 7.)
During her employment as an LPN for Muhlenberg and Lehigh
Valley, Plaintiff worked the first shift at the East Wing of the
hospital. (Pl.Dep. at 44, 64, 84.) On April 13, 1999, she
suffered a work-related injury, resulting in a short-term
disability leave of six months. (Pl.Dep. at 46-47.) During this
leave, Plaintiff underwent three surgeries for carpal tunnel
syndrome (April 13, June 24, and September 7, 1999), and
notified her employer prior to each. (Pl.Dep. at 46-47, 55-56.)
Plaintiff continued to receive disability benefits throughout
the six-month period. (Pl.Dep. at 4849.) In Plaintiffs absence,
Lehigh Valley transferred Debra Solt from the "floater" LPN on
the first shift to the LPN assigned to the East Wing on the
first shift. (Pl.Dep. at 82-85.)*fn2
On August 17, 1999, Defendant purchased the facility from
Lehigh Valley. (Pl.Dep. at 49.) After the purchase, Defendant
contacted Plaintiff and other existing hospital employees to
complete paperwork. (Pl.Dep. at 49-50.) Plaintiff completed the
paperwork and other forms necessary for the continuation of her
benefits, including a W-4 form. (Pl.Dep. at 54.) Defendant's
transition process was the same as that implemented by Lehigh
Valley when it took over the facility from Muhlenberg. (Gavornik
Dep. at 7.) No job interviews were conducted, and the employees
continued in their positions with no express notification from
Defendant that they had been retained. (Gavornik Dep. at 10-11.)
Two months after Defendant purchased the hospital, Plaintiff
contacted its Director of Human Resources, Judy Zavalydriga, and
informed her that she had been released by her doctor to return
to work without any restrictions or physical limitations.
(Pl.Dep. at 57-63.) Zavalydriga told Plaintiff that she was
required to reapply for the position. (Pl.Dep. at 57-63.)
Plaintiff refused to do so, and, thus, she never returned to
work with Defendant. (Pl.Dep. at 60-63.) Instead, on February
20, 2001, she initiated this civil action against Defendant,
asserting claims under the ADEA (Count I) and the ADA (Count
II). Defendant now moves for summary judgment.
STANDARD FOR DECIDING SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION UNDER
When the Court decides a motion for summary judgment under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, "the test is whether there
is a genuine issue of material fact and, if not, whether the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Medical Protective Co. v. Watkins, 198 F.3d 100, 103 (3d Cir.
1999) (citing Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d
Cir. 1994)). "Summary judgment will
not lie if the dispute about a material fact is `genuine,' that
is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return
a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
The Court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party, and resolve all reasonable inferences
in that party's favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538
(1986). "[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry
of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon
motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient
to establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of
proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be `no genuine
issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of
proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's
case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91
L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
I. ADEA CLAIM
The ADEA "prohibits employers from discriminating against an
individual in hiring, discharge, compensation, terms,
conditions, or privileges of employment on the basis of age."
Connors v. Chrysler Fin. Corp., 160 F.3d 971, 972 (3d Cir.
1998) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1)). "[A] plaintiff may
establish a prima facie case under the ADEA by demonstrating
that: 1) she was a member of the protected class, i.e., she
was over forty years old; 2) she is qualified for the position;
3) she suffered an adverse employment decision; and 4) she was
ultimately replaced by a person sufficiently younger to permit
an inference of age discrimination." Id. at 973-74.*fn3 A
plaintiff cannot succeed on an ADEA claim, however, if "the
factor motivating the employer is some feature other than the
employee's age." Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604,
609, 113 S.Ct. 1701, 123 L.Ed.2d 338 (1993).
In support of her ADEA claim, Plaintiff ignores the fact that
she was absent on disability leave and argues only that she was
replaced by Solt, a woman nine-and-a-half years younger than
she. Solt's age could not have been the motivating factor in
Plaintiffs replacement, however, since Solt was transferred from
a floater position to Plaintiffs position only after Plaintiff
began a disability leave in April 1999; thus, Solt's replacement
of Plaintiff was due to necessity, not age. Because Plaintiff
has failed to set forth any evidence to suggest that age was
in any way a motivating factor in her replacement, the Court
will grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with respect
to Plaintiffs ADEA claim.
II. ADA CLAIM
The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating "against a
qualified individual with a disability because of the disability
of such individual with regard to
job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or
discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and
other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment."
42 U.S.C. § 12112(a).*fn4 "In order to make out a prima facie case
under the ADA, a plaintiff must be able to establish that he or
she (1) has a `disability' (2) is a `qualified individual' and
(3) has suffered an adverse employment action because of that
disability." Deane v. Pocono Med. Ctr., 142 F.3d 138, 142 (3d
Cir. 1998) (citing Gaul v. Lucent Techs. Inc., 134 F.3d 576,
580 (3d Cir. 1998)).*fn5 A "disability" is "(A) a physical or
mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the
major life activities of [the] individual; (B) a record of such
an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an
impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2).
Plaintiff seeks the ADA's protection through the "regarded as"
definition of disability. "For an individual to be `disabled'
under the `regarded as' portion of the [ADA], the individual
must demonstrate either that: (1) despite having no impairment
at all, the employer erroneously believes that the plaintiff has
an impairment that substantially limits major life activities;
or (2) the plaintiff has a nonlimiting impairment that the
employer mistakenly believes limits major life activities."
Tice v. Centre Area Transp. Auth., 247 F.3d 506, 514 (3d Cir.
2001) (citing Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471,
489, 119 S.Ct. 2139, 144 L.Ed.2d 450 (1999)).*fn6 "The focus
of such inquiry is not on the plaintiffs actual abilities but
instead is on the reactions and perceptions of the persons
interacting or working with the plaintiff." Taylor v.
Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 998 F. Supp. 561, 569 (E.D.Pa. 1998)
Plaintiff argues that because Defendant required her to
reapply for a job once her short-term disability leave was over,
it must have perceived her as substantially limited in her
ability to work.*fn7 In support of this argument, Plaintiff
maintains only that Defendant knew of her disability and knew
that she had undergone three surgeries. As the Third Circuit has
held, however, "[t]he mere fact that an employer is aware of an
employee's impairment is insufficient to demonstrate either that
the employer regarded the employee as disabled or that the
caused the adverse employment action." Kelly v. Drexel Univ.,
94 F.3d 102, 109 (3d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). Because
Plaintiff has produced no evidence other than Defendant's
knowledge of her disability leave, she has failed to establish
that Defendant regarded her as having a disability. See Johnson
v. Boardman Petroleum, Inc., 923 F. Supp. 1563, 1568 (S.D.Ga.
1996) (finding that defendant's knowledge that plaintiff was
"under stress or suffered from grief [caused by the death of her
husband] does not rise to the level of demonstrating that [it]
thought she had a mental disability or that she was unable to
work because of this disability").*fn8
Accordingly, Plaintiff has not set forth a prima facie case of
disability discrimination, and the Court will grant Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment as it relates to her ADA
An appropriate Order follows.
AND NOW, this 15th day of February, 2002, upon consideration
of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket # 14-15),
Plaintiffs Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion (docket #
18), and Defendant's Reply Brief (docket # 19), IT IS ORDERED
that Defendant's Motion is GRANTED. Accordingly, judgment is
ENTERED in favor of Defendant, Good Shepherd Rehab at
Muhlenberg, and against Plaintiff, Linda K. Poyner.